13 November 2009 ~ You could forgive Derry City fans for feeling as if the last week has been a bizarre dream. It began with expulsion from the League of Ireland last Saturday and took in daily twists such as contract fraud, en masse board resignation and probable liquidation. And yet it ended on Thursday with John Delaney, FAI chief executive, offering the club, despite its tattered credibility and crippling debts, a fast track back in: “It’s important to us Derry play in the LOI next season. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t come to pass.”

For some time Derry City have been in crisis. The club failed to pay players for over ten weeks and accrued debts of more than £500,000. But last Saturday the crisis dissolved into farce. The FAI booted the club from the LOI for contravening the terms of their licence. In order to get around the 65 per cent rule (where no club can spend over 65 per cent of income on wages), the association found Derry had submitted contracts indicating the players were paid less than they actually were. According to the FAI, the club admitted to more than 20 fake contracts.

But how did the FAI detect such a sophisticated and thoroughly thought-out attempt at cheating? Well, naturally, this type of fraud is aided by actually paying players at all. Darren Quigley, a goalkeeper on loan at Sporting Fingal, inadvertently let slip the real amount the club were paying him when he went to the FAI to claim wages he was owed. Quigley’s bank statements were enough to prove the club’s recklessness.

The fallout has been another embarrassment for the league and seen a proud club’s reputation shredded – not to mention the players who may have been aware of the dual contracts. Derry City’s board of directors, led by chairman Pat McDaid, issued furious denials and threatened legal action but by Tuesday all bar one had resigned. The same day several players admitted signing dual contracts but disavowed any knowledge of the scam, insisting their belief that one was a blank registration form.

In essence the FAI gained the best result possible from the sorry mess. The club’s board, whose brazen denials had infuriated the association, were gone. The players, who provided tame, eyebrow-raising excuses but hadn’t been paid in ten weeks, were welcomed back in. With the old regime gone, the FAI made their desire to see Derry City back in the league abundantly clear. It appears the club could be fast-tracked straight into the First Division with not so much as a point deduction, although it will almost certainly require liquidation and a new entity, with a clean financial slate, taking control.

Derry have been down this debt-ridden road before, however, and know how hard it is to come back. An opportunity now exists for Derry to reform with sizeable input from the fans, whether through a supporters trust or a committee with fan representation. But whichever direction the club now turns, it must be, finally, with lessons learned. Otherwise Derry City risk turning last week’s dreamscape into a recurring nightmare. Ciaran McCauley

Comments (5)
Comment by Duncan Gardner 2009-11-13 14:14:42

Surely they can't play in the top division next year? The alternatives are the second tier (which isn't 'fast tracking'), parks football, or leaving the country (the FAI, effectively.

The LoI can't afford not to have a team from Derry (ditto Cork) even if they're bankrupt.But good luck anyway.

Comment by irishreddevil 2009-11-13 14:37:19

The second tier IS indeed fast-tracking, as liquidation technically means the formation of a new club, which would thus have to re-start in the third tier A Championship. I wish Derry all the best, but if they are re-admitted to the First Division, they should at least face an election against the five non-League clubs.

Comment by Duncan Gardner 2009-11-13 15:20:46

IRD- OK, it's faster, but the LoI can't afford to lose Derry, for their crowds and local interest as much as the embarrassment of their financial fiddles. I'd have been amazed if the successor club's playing punishment had been anymore than starting next year's D2 with no points deduction.

Recently I was discussing a similar case with the Welsh fans on OTF. One of them suggested that if Merthyr Tydfil's imminent bankruptcy caused them to leave English football, they'd be invited straight into the Welsh Premier.

I agree with you- both Derry and Merthyr sHOULD start from a lower level, for what's it worth.

Comment by pashley 2009-11-13 16:36:02

If Merthyr had been forced to leave the English pyramid system there is no way they would have received an automatic invitation to join the Welsh Premier. Their ground would not be up to standard and there is no way they would be able to obtain the domestic licence required for next season.

That's not to say that they wouldn't be welcomed into the Welsh Premier at a future point and, as a supporter of a current Welsh Premier side, I would love to see them in the league, particularly now that they seem to be getting on a more stable footing under the guidence of the Supporters Trust. The majority of their fans still see their future in the English pyramid however.

Comment by Slim Dedalus 2009-11-13 23:22:32

As a Bohs fan, I'll be quiet happy to not have to face Derry City next season. Hopefully it's a short reprieve though as they have great potential as a LOI club.

To see a local club have such a presence in an Irish city is encouraging. Like Cork, Dundalk and Sligo, they can claim to have represented the community around them for some time.

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